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Cherokee Eats: Kanuchi
by Lindsey Bark - Reporter Cherokee Phoenix
credits: photos by Lindsey Bark - Cherokee Phoenix
Hickory nuts, found in the fall, are used to make a Cherokee dish known as kanuchi. Kanuchi is a hickory nut soup.
Cherokee Nation citizen Roberta Sapp, of Kenwood, cracks hickory nuts using rocks passed down to her from her grandfather, who taught her how to make kanuchi.
Once hickory nuts are cracked into small pieces, they are sifted through a basket to remove as much of the shell as possible.
Shelled hickory nuts are mashed in a coffee can by Cherokee Nation citizen Roberta Sapp, who uses a stick with a blunt end.
When hickory nuts are mashed, oil is released from the nutmeat that helps it form into a ball and keep its shape, also known as a kanuchi ball.
Kanuchi turns out as a hickory nut soup made with rice or hominy and added sugar for taste. It can be eaten hot or cold and is a favorite in the Cherokee culture.

KENWOOD – A staple food that Cherokees look forward to in the fall is kanuchi, a hickory nut soup.

Cherokee Nation citizen Roberta Sapp makes the well-known dish annually, having learned the tradition from her grandfather.

Gathering: "Kanuchi is like a dessert, a sweet drink that has rice in it or has hominy in it," Sapp said. "You gather hickory nuts, then you clean them and crack them as small as you can."

Hickory nuts are usually gathered in the fall, cleaned of their husks and sometimes dried before being used.

Process: When cracking hickory nuts, tools are needed to make the process easier.
Sapp uses rocks, a basket and a bat-like stick that have been passed down to her from her grandfather.

"I grew up around my grandpa making it all the time," she said. "He handed over his rocks that he cracked them with, and his stick that you mash it with and the old basket that he sifted with."

Sapp places one nut at a time in the center of a large oval stone that is flat on top. Then she uses a smaller similar stone to pound the hickory nut until it is completely crumbled.

Once enough nuts are cracked, she takes the basket and sifts the meat from the shells. Any leftover shell pieces are picked out by hand until mostly nutmeat is left, slightly more than a handful.

Sapp places the meat into a bowl-like object to begin the mashing process. She uses an old coffee can with a thick metal piece welded to the bottom. She uses the stick to mash the nutmeat until the oil is released and can be formed into a 3-inch to 4-inch ball.

Kanuchi balls can be refrigerated or frozen and last up to two years, Sapp said.

Cooking: The kanuchi ball is broken into a bowl with hot water and stirred until it has a soup consistency. The soup is then strained of all the nutmeat before being added to cooked rice or hominy.

"Once the ball is made, I boil water, cook my rice," she said. "When the rice is ready I'll smash the ball back up and pour my hot water in there and then I'll strain it into a pan. You keep going until all the meats gone. Then you put rice in it."

Kanuchi can be eaten hot or cold and sugar added for taste.

"There's a lot of people that like it," Sapp said. "But I guess since it's like a sweet drink, you can either drink it or eat it with a spoon, with the rice in it. It has a really good taste, the hickory nuts do. Even if you crack them and eat them, they have a really good taste."

Tradition: Sapp has been making kanuchi for about 50 years. She intends to pass her tools down to one of her daughters, who also makes the dish. "My daughter Tina can make it and we'll probably pass this stuff on to her. When we can't do it no longer we'll probably give it her."

Sapp said it's important for younger kids to learn traditions such as kanuchi.

"I think it is really important for the younger kids to know since it's like an old Indian drink. That's how I look at it. It started from somebody way back probably. Sometimes I wish I had asked questions but I never did. Even the basket I have, I don't know who made it or how long they had it. It's different. It's not like what we make. But I think it's important to pass it on to one of your kids if they want to learn it. If not, then pass it on to one of your family members that will do it and keep it going."

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